1986. The greatest year in thrash history? Arguably so.
We all know that the big guns released seminal albums in ’86 but there was also a slew of quality releases from lesser known acts clogging up the thrash airwaves with some of the filthiest sounds imaginable; thrash was already evolving and death metal was the next logical progression.
With a shit-load of quality releases to choose from here’s OUR pick of the 10 greatest thrash metal albums of 1986…..
10. Sacrifice – Torment In Fire
Sacrifice‘s fiery thrash debut was fiendishly evil, brutally effective and pure diabolical mayhem set to music.
Featuring some truly spine-scraping shrieks and riffs that threaten to veer into all out distorted noise, Sacrifice may have been undeniably immature at this stage in there career but there’s no escaping the sheer impact this feral release still possesses.
These Canadian miscreants often sounded more like their unhinged German counterparts than the clinically precise riffing found south of the border. Subsequently, Sacrifice found themselves joining the ranks of the demented Destruction, Kreator, Whiplash and Possessed in channeling the more maniacal possibilities thrash had to offer.
While a god-awful production job slightly lessens its impact, Torment In Fire remains an integral stepping stone in thrash metal’s eventual transition to death metal and was an underground treasure of 1986.
9. Nuclear Assault – Game Over
Nuclear Assault‘s debut album saw Danny Lilker and his merry men release an unrefined and cataclysmic thrash metal assault on the world!
Still tapped in to the raw emotion and pure power over technical skill mentality of thrash metal’s early releases – that’s not to say these boys couldn’t play but it’s the attitude that shines through – Game Over bordered on a crossover release; revelling in gang vocals, thunderous bass and John Connoly’s unhinged and apocalyptic screeching diatribes.
From the blacker than black humour of “Hang The Pope” to the end of the world announcing “Nuclear War”, “After The Holocaust” and “Radiation Sickness”, Nuclear Assault hit like the proverbial atomic bomb in ’86 and instantly cemented their place amongst the greats of thrash metal.
It was already game over man, game over.
8. Destruction – Eternal Devastation
Hot on the tails of the US thrash elite were Germany’s own teutonic terror’s and Destruction‘s Eternal Devastation was a bestial invasion that firmly let the world know that the Germans were coming!
Perhaps not quite hitting the heady highs of 1985’s Infernal Overkill (a personal favourite of ours), Destruction were noticeably progressing into a world-class outfit and some all-time classic thrashers can be found here. From the all-conquering “Curse The Gods”, the still surprising folk-thrash opening of “United By Hatred” and the air-raid siren soloing of “Life Without Sense”, Destruction sounded confident, brash and capable of absolutely anything on only their second full length release.
Early European thrash consolidated Germany’s importance alongside the Bay Area acts and Eternal Devastation remains beloved by thrash fans the world over…..and for bloody good reason; it’s as devastating as ever.
7. Flotsam And Jetsam – Doomsday For The Deceiver
One of the greatest thrash debuts known to man, Flotsam and Jetsam‘s Doomsday For The Deceiver led the world to believe that a new thrash superpower had arrived (not quite, unfortunately) with a collection of tunes both overwhelmingly powerful and expertly performed.
Taking the very best bits of speed metal, power metal and thrash metal – and perfecting them amongst a flurry of cranking bass, warp-speed riffs and Erik A.K’s formidable pipes – the likes of the feral “Hammerhead”, the intense “Iron Tears” and the epic ability of the exquisite title track mark out Doomsday For The Deceiver as an undisputed all-time thrash classic.
Many will recall the rarely used 6K mark awarded by Kerrang back in ’86 and that laughable sentiment surprisingly rings true. From intense bursts of thrashing rage (“Desecrator,” the aforementioned “Iron Tears”) to almost progressive metal, multi-tentacled epics, Doomsday For The Deceiver had everything!
6. Onslaught – The Force
The first band to truly raise hell in the name of British thrash (Venom don’t quite qualify as we’ve never considered them 100% thrash), Onslaught aggressively turned heads with their second album, The Force – was there ever a more appropriate album title? – and their forceful and vitriolic sound hit like a ten ton hammer; thrashing harder than most and with as much conviction as the likes of Dark Angel and early Slayer.
An onslaught of sinister, stabbing riffs awaited the brave and “Let There Be Death”, “Flame Of The Antichrist” and “Metal Forces” were all instant classics, brutal, utterly devoid of mercy and terrifyingly demonic in equal measure.
Probably the most convincing thrash album ever recorded by a British band.
5. Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?
In terms of musicianship and compositional skill, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?, represented a monumental leap forward from 1985’s but, Killing Is My Business… and Business Is Good! This time around, Dave Mustaine and his assembled posse fully realised their knack for melody and dead-shot metal marksmanship and the results were uniformly stunning.
The first four tracks on this album remain untouchable (tracks 5-8 ain’t bad either).
“Wake up Dead” kicked off proceedings with enough riffs and tempo changes to pad out an entire album, while “The Conjuring” was a devilishly diabolical ode to the power of black magic. However, it was on track 3 where Megadeth permanently stamped down their indelible mark on the thrash scene. “Peace Sells” was the colossal hit that slapped the mainstream round the face with its badass bass line, heavy yet accessible approach and sneering, snarling lyrics spat out by Mustaine using his inimitable delivery. In stark contrast, “Devil’s Island” was a state of the art thrash showcase of predatory power and scintillating speed.
34 years on and Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? remains a thrash metal landmark and a highpoint in Megadeth‘s incredible career!
4. Kreator – Pleasure To Kill
This precociously vicious shitstorm instantly struck a chord with thrashers worldwide and in 1986 Kreator found themselves leading the way in the teutonic scene.
Unhinged to the point of incarceration, Pleasure To Kill‘s track-list borders on a greatest hits selection with the wall of noise maelstrom of “Ripping Corpse”, the unforgettable “Pleasure To Kill”, the death metal influencing “Riot Of Violence” and the epic and surprisingly complex “The Pestilence” all meriting classic status.
A sonic assault on the senses that has lost none of its power, with Pleasure To Kill Kreator altered the German thrash landscape forever and mayhem of this calibre never sounded so good again. You’d be hard pressed to find a more significant and seminal album in German thrash metal’s arsenal.
3. Metallica – Master Of Puppets
Still recording music on their own terms and not bowing to record label pressure to adopt a more mainstream approach – that particular compromise was still 5 years away – Metallica’s third album remains an intense, passionate (if overplayed) high-water mark in thrash history.
The track listing speaks for itself. “Battery” does exactly that, it batters you senseless, while “Master Of Puppets is a stone-cold-crazy classic and requires no further evaluation and “The Thing That Should Not Be” still hits like a brick to the gonads and conjures imagery of leviathan-esque, Lovecraftian monsters hell-bent on destruction; a rival to “For Whom The Bell Tolls” in imagery, atmosphere and execution.
The remainder of the album is no slouch either, the band crafting a record that has rightfully gone down in history as a true metal classic, regardless of sub-genre.
So, why not higher, you may ask?
There’s no denying this is one of the greatest records in heavy metal history but it actually plays it safe in many aspects. By following their Ride The Lightning formula to the letter, (hell-for-leather thrasher followed by epic title track, followed by atmospheric, slow-burner etc), Metallica diluted Master Of Puppets impact with over familiarity and quasi-sequel status.
That’s not to say this album isn’t anything less than an absolute triumph but we’re not as enamoured with it as we once were.
2. Slayer – Reign In Blood
29 frantic minutes, 10 blistering tracks.
This pinnacle of thrash perfection was created by a band who epitomised the scene like no other, with Dave Lombardo’s aggressive and revolutionary drumming, Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman’s piercing, puncturing riffs and Tom Araya’s growling bass and vocals, somehow merging to create the kind of extreme metal that transcended genre and solidified their position among the thrash elite.
Upon release, Reign In Blood was more ruthless and more clinically effective than any thrash album that had come before it. And, while it may be no easy listen, Reign In Blood remains an endlessly rewarding experience and its insistent and incendiary nature never fails to surprise.
Reign In Blood changed the shape of thrash overnight and while time has arguably been kinder to the likes of South Of Heaven and Seasons In Abyss, it remains an undisputed classic that has little to no equal.
1. Dark Angel – Darkness Descends
Suck it up, we’ve gone with Dark Angel‘s Darkness Descends over Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood and we feel no guilt at all. This may not be the popular choice but it’s our all-time favourite thrash album for 3 very good reasons…..unbridled ferocity, technical supremacy and relentless aural battery.
Dark Angel’s terrifyingly tenacious and genre-defining sophomore album showcased the likes of the rampaging “Merciless Death”, the incendiary “The Burning Of Sodom” and, particularly, the progressively minded “Black Prophecies”; which was the first indication of the 100+ riffs per track and epic song length mentality the band would explore on later releases.
The eerie yet elegant bass intro to the aforementioned “Merciless Death” aside, moments of respite were few and far between, as Dark Angel focused on thrashing harder, faster and with more gritted teeth malevolence than any other band on the planet…..and that includes the mighty Slayer!
As indicated, despite the passing of almost 34 years, this enduring entry in the history of thrash hasn’t lost an ounce of power and it remains one of the most brutal, ball-breaking exercises in extremity in existence. Led by an onslaught of chainsaw guitars and Gene Hoglan’s powerhouse drumming, this nasty little fucker doesn’t pause for breath and, as far as we’re concerned, it was the greatest thrash album of 1986. And we’re standing by it.
Honourable mentions: Angel Dust – Into The Dark Past / Exumer – Possessed By Fire / Metal Church – The Dark (were they even pure thrash? Not really, hence not being included in the final 10) / Voivod – Rrröööaaarrr / Whiplash – Power and Pain
Also in this series:
The 10 Greatest Thrash Metal Albums Of 1985
The 10 Greatest Thrash Metal Albums Of 1987